Alt-Social Lambasts Electric Vehicles

March 1, 2024
6 min

Negativity and falsehoods about electric vehicles (EVs) are spreading on alternative social media, risking damage to the industry at a critical juncture in its trajectory. Last year, a record 1.2 million electric vehicles (EVs) were sold in the United States, but growth is slowing due to a variety of factors, including saturation of the early adopter market and lingering concerns over battery range, affordability, and availability of charging stations. Meanwhile, the US auto industry has invested about $146 billion in the research and development of EVs during the past three years. Government also is investing heavily, with the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocating tens of billions of dollars to EV manufacturing and infrastructure as part of an effort to combat climate change. The International Energy Agency in 2021 found that countries would need to end the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 to prevent the earth from warming to a point beyond which the planet would suffer irreversible damage, with heightened risks of “catastrophic heat waves, flooding, drought, crop failures, and species extinction,” according to the New York Times.

With stakes such as these, adverse social media narratives surrounding EVs should concern industry executives and government policymakers alike. Since November, 78% of the nearly 50,000 posts mentioning electric vehicles on unmoderated social media were negative, according to Pyrra’s AI-enabled sentiment analysis. Most narratives stemmed from common concerns, such as the environmental and social impacts of EV production; range anxiety; lack of supporting infrastructure and charging stations; costs to manufacturers, labor, and consumers; competition with China; safety issues; and weather-related incidents. However, the posts frequently contained misinformation, were misleading, or lacked context. In addition, few posts acknowledged the potential benefits of EVs or ways the industry and policymakers could overcome these challenges.

While the EV-related views espoused by alt-social users are not new, two events since last fall have driven spikes in mentions linked to these narratives: political rivalry between US presidential candidates courting voters in the swing state of Michigan, and cold winter weather in the Midwest that disabled EVs or diminished their range and charging capacity.

Trump Driving Spikes in EV Negativity
In mid-September, the United Auto Workers (UAW) labor union went on strike in the United States for six weeks. During this period, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump traveled to Michigan to vie for the UAW’s endorsement as part of their presidential campaigns, each offering a different vision for American auto manufacturing. The Biden administration has promoted a transition to electric cars as part of its efforts to combat climate change and modernize American industry, while Trump argues such a transition bolsters Chinese competition at the expense of American manufacturing, jobs, and consumers. In late January, the UAW endorsed Biden.

Trump’s posts on Truth Social have caused several spikes in electric car mentions since December, with the biggest jumps occurring after the UAW endorsement. The top three spikes occurred in January and February and ranged from 492 to 780 posts per day, significant upticks when compared with mainstream platforms with many more users.  For instance, Reddit has an estimated 1 billion monthly active users compared to Truth Social’s 8.9 million users. Yet the highest daily count of Reddit posts mentioning EVs over the same period was well below the Truth Social spikes.

Trump’s posts describe Biden’s policies as an EV mandate that will result in job losses and all EVs being made in China. Hundreds of users re-posted these comments, almost certainly to express their support.  

These claims are false, misleading, or lack context, judging from research conducted by the Annenberg Center for Public Policy and recent media reports.

  • The Biden administration has not mandated “all electric cars.” In April 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new rules to restrict vehicle emissions. While the EPA projected the new standards would result in electric vehicle sales accounting for 67% of light-duty vehicles by 2032, the standards were technology neutral, allowing manufacturers to choose the mix of technologies needed to meet them. Moreover, in mid-February the New York Times reported the administration intends to relax the emissions limits in the near term to give the auto industry more time to transition.
  • Job losses resulting from increased EV manufacturing are not a foregone conclusion. Ford Motor’s CEO Jim Farley in late 2022 indicated his company intended to build as many of its own parts as possible to offset a 40% reduction in workers needed to build electric vehicles.  In addition, the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, which is partly funded by labor unions, said the auto industry could gain 150,000 jobs if the US implements policies to increase EV component manufacturing.
  • China is the world’s largest producer and exporter of electric vehicles and dominates the global supply chain for EV batteries, minerals, and other components. However, Chinese manufacturers have sold few EVs in the United States, which has taken steps to limit foreign competition. The Inflation Reduction Act passed in 2022 bans many materials sourced from China or Chinese companies from being used in cars eligible for $7,500 in buyer tax credits. The vehicles must also be assembled in North America. In early February 2024, the Biden administration was considering restricting imports of electric vehicles and parts originating from China regardless of where they are finally assembled, as well as increasing the 27.5% tariff on Chinese EVs originally imposed by the Trump administration, according to Fortune.
  • Polestar, the top exporter of EVs from China to the United States, accounts for a small fraction of total US EV sales, and plans to supplant its Chinese-made EVs with versions made in the United States. The Chinese-owned company headquartered in Sweden sold approximately 10,000 electric vehicles in the United States in 2023, accounting for 0.8% of total US EV sales that year, based on data from GoodCarBadCar, which tracks North American auto sales, and the New York Times. The company failed to meet its 2023 sales targets and has experienced financial distress, leading Chinese parent company Geely to take control of its finances in February 2024. Polestar in mid-2024 will begin selling electric SUVs manufactured in South Carolina, according to J.D. Power and Foreign Policy.
  • Chinese auto manufacturer BYD, which eclipsed Tesla in worldwide EV sales late last year, has operated in the United States for longer than a decade but its US sales are limited to electric buses, including school buses; heavy- and medium-duty trucks; forklifts; and elevated rails. The company’s US factory is in Lancaster, CA, and operated by unionized US workers.

Cold Weather Highlights EV Challenges
Electric vehicle naysayers capitalized on news reports this winter of EVs in the midwestern United States becoming stuck or unable to charge in cold weather, leading to several spikes in mainstream and alt-social engagement. Low temperatures typically reduce an EV’s driving range and increase charging time.

  • In mid-January, YouTube users shared mostly negative comments in response to a Fox 32 Chicago news segment about dead Teslas packing the parking lot of a supercharging station in the Chicago area, with drivers unable to charge their cars in the winter freeze. 
  • That week, links to an article on a similar topic published by alt-right news outlet Breitbart gained traction on Gab and other alt-social platforms. The article was entitled, “Poll: 65% of Americans Unlikely to Buy Electric Cars as They Strand Drivers in Winter Freeze.”
  • During the same period, links to an article by right-leaning advocacy organization Power the Future, entitled, “Winter Storm Exposes Electric Vehicle Failures,” proliferated on Truth Social. The article referenced the Fox 32 news report.
  • Meanwhile, posts on Disqus and Truth Social linked to an article published on alt-right media outlet The Gateway Pundit entitled, “The Electric Vehicle Scam is a Symptom of Western Decline.” The article contains embedded video from NBC 5 Chicago showing frustrated EV drivers at a public charging lot in a Chicago suburb waiting in long lines in the extreme cold, in some cases with disabled vehicles.

In early February, Tesla rolled out changes in its latest vehicle software update that appeared to be aimed at addressing battery issues exposed during the extreme weather events of the previous month, according to The Verge. The new features include automatically warming the car’s charge port when drivers navigate to a charging station, and a timer that indicates when the car’s battery is warm enough for fast charging. In mid-February, Forbes published tips for dealing with charging challenges in the freezing cold, advising consumers to use vehicles with battery types appropriate for expected weather conditions in their living area, charge indoors or during off-peak hours, and plan for a 20-40% drop in range, depending on temperatures. The Fox 32 report advised EV drivers to hit the battery precondition button in their vehicle before attempting to charge it in extremely cold weather.

For the EV industry, monitoring and analysis of alternative social media will be crucial to understanding the spread of negativity and misinformation surrounding its products and in “worst case scenarios” attempts by special interest groups or competitors to seed propaganda.  Only then can strategies be devised to educate and inform consumers to ensure the industry succeeds. With billions of dollars hanging in the balance, only time will tell if EVs prevail.

Pyrra’s goal is to make the internet and the world a safer place by identifying and combating hate speech, violent threats, reputation risk and brand damage across the unmoderated and alternative corners of the internet. Should your team need support in monitoring or identifying threats or trends online, please contact us at

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